A Far North man whose hunger strike over Work and Income food grant policy made national headlines has been convicted and discharged for smashing two windows at the agency's Kaikohe office.
That means Sam Kuha, 59, will have a record but will face no further punishment. He has already agreed to pay the $480 repair bill at $10 a week.
The Kaikohe invalid beneficiary went to Winz on September 14 last year to apply for an emergency grant after running out of food and money. He was told he had to see a budgeter first, but had to wait three weeks for an appointment.
He went on hunger strike and four days later made the 4km trek into town on his electric wheelchair to draw attention to his protest with a sledgehammer. He lifted his hunger strike 30 days later when Social Development Minister Paula Bennett agreed to hear his concerns face-to-face.
In the Kaikohe District Court on Friday Judge Greg Davis accepted lawyer Steve Nicholson's request for a conviction and discharge. Kuha had agreed to pay for the windows, had admitted a charge of wilful damage, and had been punished enough by having his personal life dragged through newspapers and TV, he said.
''But it is important to reiterate that to express one's frustration at a government agency in the manner you did is not an appropriate way to conduct yourself.''
Judge Davis noted that Kuha's benefit had increased by 41 per cent because he was now receiving his full entitlement.
Afterwards Mr Kuha said he was glad it was over and satisfied he had achieved his goals. Invalids, many of them in pain and worse off than himself, no longer had to traipse around town collecting documentation but could deal with Winz by email; and beneficiaries would no longer be denied food grants while waiting to see a budgeter, which meant fewer children would go hungry.
Mr Nicholson, who represented Kuha pro bono, said the conviction and discharge was the best outcome possible. Originally he wanted a discharge without conviction because his client had suffered enough, but the law made it clear that was possible only if the consequences of a conviction greatly outweighed the seriousness of the offence.
''It can never be said that breaking the law is acceptable, but he was completely overwhelmed on that day ... This is a man who is in poverty, is 72 per cent disabled and who, without justification, was treated egregiously. It was a scenario that needed to be exposed.''
As a result Kuha's own circumstances had improved markedly and he had been able to show the Minister that Winz staff were not applying the agency's own policies around food grant discretion. The agency had also ignored almost every one of the 21 bullet-points in its list of standards for dealing with clients, Mr Nicholson said.
When Kuha went to Winz on September 14 he had no food left and was so overdrawn that his next weekly payment of $244 on September 18 left him with just $18 in the bank. Because he could not get an emergency grant without seeing a budgeter, it was all the money he had until the next payment on September 25.
That meant he had not a cent to spend for four days and $2.50 a day for the next week.
''To say that is not poverty is an insult,'' Mr Nicholson said.